COLRAIN — About 15 people armed with signs and banners took to the bridge over the North River in Colrain on Monday to express dismay over the Sept. 1 sulphuric acid leak at nearby Barnhardt Manufacturing Company that resulted in thousands of fish deaths.
Rhonda Anderson decided over the weekend to plan a demonstration in an attempt to generate more awareness of the leak and make sure Barnhardt is held accountable, not wanting this incident to be “swept under the rug.” She invited, via social media and email, other concerned citizens to join her at the bridge from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. before walking to Barnhardt for a brief silent protest.
Anderson said it is important to advocate for defenseless wildlife, especially the fish affected by the leak.
“They are innocent bystanders in this and no doubt a very important part of our ecosystem,” she said on the bridge on Route 112, near Call Road. “So, we’re giving a voice to the voiceless in that way.”
An unknown amount of acid leaked from a seam in a holding tank at Barnhardt, according to Catherine V. Skiba, regional spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).
Barnhardt notified MassDEP at about 8 a.m. on Sept. 1 that its employees had discovered a leak about two hours prior and worked immediately to stop it. MassDEP was told the tank was in containment and there was no release to the environment, but it was later realized the leak sprayed outside the tank’s containment structure, hitting a drainage swale and causing runoff into the North River. Containment of affected soils and a cleanup were conducted after this discovery.
Barnhardt issued its apologies for the incident on Wednesday.
“It is always our intentions to operate our facilities according to the state and federal environmental laws and regulations,” the statement reads. “We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused for anyone in the community.”
Barnhardt, at 247 Main Road, manufactures bleached cotton fiber products.
“They see us,” demonstrator Jamie Guerin said Monday.
“I hope so,” Anderson replied.
The river’s picturesque scene Monday offered a stark contrast to the bleak scene of “tens of thousands” of dead fish described as littering the waterway barely a week ago. Insects and some dace could be seen in the water from the bridge but Todd Richards, the state’s assistant director of fisheries, previously said it could take a few years for certain fish species to repopulate.
Anderson said she noticed a difference.
“It’s definitely not teeming with life the way it usually is,” she said, mentioning that she wants to know if Barnhardt will pay to restock the river with trout.
The demonstrators stood on the bridge and chatted while holding signs and waving to passing motorists, some of whom waved back, honked their horns in support or gave a thumbs-up. One motorist, Colrain resident and fishing guide Brian Gilbert, pulled over to ask about the demonstration and voice his support for the cause.
“I’m not happy,” Gilbert said about the acid leak.
Toward the end of the demonstration, Anderson’s friend Anthony Melting Tallow, a member of the Siksika Nation, arrived to say a prayer and call for oneness with the Earth.
“The future doesn’t look good, but the future depends on all of us,” he said as his allies stood in silence, some bowing their heads in reflection. “Creator, they say that there’s too many people in the world today, but the reason there’s so many people is that they need to be here at this time. This is the time of the gathering of all the spirits, because it’s going to take all of us to turn this world around from where it’s going.
“We are not against anyone. We don’t judge. We don’t put down anyone,” he added. “We’re here to honor the world, to honor life, to honor the water, to honor the creatures in the water, and know that we walk made up of water.”
Melting Tallow also handed out chemical-free ceremonial tobacco, which he described as having medicinal value, for people to keep or to crush up and drop into the river.
After the prayer, Anderson led most of the demonstrators to nearby Barnhardt, where they briefly stood in silent protest holding their signs and banners.
Reach Domenic Poli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.